Industry figures voice alarm over impact of fuel duty increases on retail outlook

Government urged to abandon fuel tax hike as manufacturers, retailers and contractors lament business climate decline.

Many garden centre customers are dependent on cars - image: HW
Many garden centre customers are dependent on cars - image: HW

Planned three per cent fuel price rises in January will be "disastrous" for the horticulture industry, Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Neil Gow has said.

The Burcot Garden Centre owner said: "It is going to affect absolutely everything because we are so totally reliant on transport, with manufacturers moving goods around and consumers getting to retail outlets.

"Any glimmer of hope for the economy is going to be dimmed if this goes through. If the Government can't see that, we are deeper in the mire than perhaps anyone knew we were.

"I fully accept that the Government needs to raise money but employed people paying income tax is going to generate more revenue than the easy option of 3p a litre on fuel. It is a quick win but is not investing in long-term recovery."

Gow said the Government could and should stop the planned rise before Christmas, which would boost seasonal sales and confidence.

Scotsdale Garden Centre managing director and HTA immediate past president Caroline Owen said: "It is imperative that fuel prices stay down. I would call for the Government not to go ahead with increases because our customers have to drive their cars to get here.

"Fuel prices have had a big effect on some larger destination centres that have longer customer drive time.

"People really notice petrol price rises. Last year, we gave out £5 money-off vouchers 'to pay for your petrol' and it was our most successful. Petrol prices are a very emotive subject."

Responding to an e-petition signed by more than 100,000 people that is due to be debated in Parliament, the British Retail Consortium argued that the Government should drop the 3.02p per litre increase planned for January and said it should also cancel the rise planned for next August.

The second increase is due to be based on September's Retail Prices Index, which reached a 20-year high of 5.6 per cent. The two rises would mean duty increases of 7-8p per litre.

Efficiency Drive - Landscapes seek savings

Barton Grange Landscapes managing director Peter Topping spends £11,000 a month on 25 commercial vehicles. He absorbs the cost because clients are unwilling to pay more while tendering is about keeping prices down, he explained.

"We will think about more efficiency such as sending out vans instead of lorries, which use twice as much fuel. This is a big blow to everyone - everything has to be transported including food and people have less cash in their pockets."

At Scandor Landscape Contractors, managing director Trevor Scott said: "We have 16 vehicles and spend £2,500 on fuel. Fuel bills are always a concern and we haven't any real way of tackling this problem. We can't increase our costs and therefore have to absorb them."

Parks consultant Sid Sullivan said parks departments should switch to green fuels such as LPG. The Royal Parks ran its fleet of vehicles on this fuel and was considered by many to be leading-edge, he added.

"Why is it so many councils still use petrol and diesel?" he asked. "Changing over may encourage manufacturers of mowers and other vehicles to offer this alternative. If departments must stick with petrol, they could make better use of route mapping for mowing to cut miles, pollution and costs."

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